According to NPR’s Rhitu Chatterjee, “Loneliness isn’t just a fleeting feeling, leaving us sad for a few hours to a few days. Research in recent years suggests that for many people, loneliness is more like a chronic ache, affecting their daily lives and sense of well-being.”
In fact, according to a nationwide survey by Cigna, nearly 50 percent of respondents report they feel alone or left out always or sometimes.
Mindi Bridges, the director of marketing for VASA Fitness, recognizes the loneliness epidemic and the unique position it puts their clubs in to make a positive impact. “I think social media has made some people feel more lonely than before,” she said.
As a result, VASA Fitness strives to create a safe place where members can come together to build community. One example is through monthly fitness events that provide an opportunity for members to gather with other members and instructors.
“We like to bring members together at least once a month,” said Bridges. “One example is we just had a family fitness night where we invited parents to bring their kids for a fun night of dancing, yoga and boot camps in our group fitness studios. We have our best instructors, and even instructors who weren’t on the schedule for the night come in because they want to see their favorite members.”
One thing to note is that there’s one specific demographic reporting higher rates of loneliness compared to others: Millennials.
Dr. Douglas Nemecek, the chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna, told NPR: “Our survey found that actually the younger generation was lonelier than the older generations.”
Bridges agreed, but added seniors often suffer from increased rates of loneliness as well.
“We’re committed to making sure we have senior-friendly classes — we hear a lot of stories about widows and widowers, that it took them a long time to get out of the house,” said Bridges. “I actually just met somebody, and she was saying that her husband passed away 11 years ago and she found VASA five years ago, and it’s just changed her life. She’ll even drive around to different clubs to take a Silver Sneakers class. Even if it’s an hour out of her way, she’ll still drive because it gives her something to look forward to five days a week.”
At the end of the day, health clubs are positioned well to combat the loneliness epidemic by providing places for people to gather and participate in group activities.
And ultimately, a person’s mental health has a direct impact on their overall well-being.
“There’s a blurred line between mental and physical health,” David Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna Corp, told NPR. “Oftentimes, medical symptoms present themselves and they’re correlated with mental, lifestyle, behavioral issues like loneliness.”